By Ken Gross
To date. It has been an active few months. The Save the Dam Falls Committee was formed in July 2021, when it became obvious that the town government — by which we mean the Camden Select Board and Town Manager, not the professional staff at the Town Office — intended not only to tear down Montgomery Dam, but also to do so with a minimum of public discussion, and if possible, no discussion at all.
Our goals from the very beginning have been consistent:
— promote a town-wide discussion of the value of preserving Montgomery Dam;
— cherish and promote the waterfall, millpond, and dam, for their beauty and the economic vitality and character they create at the heart of Camden; and
— document that the dam is no threat to the safety of Camden (and neither will it prevent fish passage)
Success. We have been hugely successful in publicizing the issue of Montgomery Dam. We have spoken out at Select Board meetings, written numerous letters to the editors, posted a regular column (“Dam Straight”) in the Camden Herald, created a FaceBook page, completed a petition drive, had numerous conversations with fellow citizens, posted banners and flyers, ran an ad in the newspaper, and we will shortly create a nonprofit company for our finances.
We promoted and celebrated the Olmsted 200 movement. We participated in an independent survey, which found that 67% of the respondents favored saving the dam. We can be certain that the dam will not be destroyed without a public discussion.
We cannot be certain that the dam will be preserved, however.
The petition. The Save the Dam Falls Committee circulated a petition and garnered far more than the number of signatures required. The petition was to place an article on the town warrant — that is, it was simply to enable a vote, so that the citizens of Camden could have a legal voice in the matter of saving the dam.
We looked forward to the debate and the public discussion that the vote would entail. We feel confident that our reasons for preserving the dam, and the concern that we express for the safety, economic vitality, heritage, and character of Camden will carry the vote.
But our Camden Select Board, against all expectations of lawful and respectful behavior, has denied the citizens of Camden the right to vote on this issue. The right to petition is a bedrock principle of democracy; the Select Board has unlawfully denied that right.
This action by the Select Board has raised the stakes considerably. We are not only fighting to preserve a treasured landmark, we are now fighting for democracy. We never thought that in our own town, we must fight for the right to vote. In our own town, our government has voted to disenfranchise every citizen.
What is our recourse? Our legal recourse is to call a town meeting. We are authorized to do so under the town charter Section 1.03.2. (No one has ever done this before.)
And as the town attorney pointed out to us, our other recourse is the ballot box.
Not only will we vote to preserve the dam, but we will be able to replace the members of the Select Board who have been so arrogant as to not only refuse to discuss saving Montgomery Dam but also to deny a legal petition.
“Poison pill.” There is an opposition group which is promoting “restoration” of the river. In the language of environmentalists, “restore” is code for “dam destruction.” This group fashioned what is known as a “poison pill” in order to obfuscate the process and to create a smokescreen for the Select Board to deny the petition. To date they have been successful in preventing the issue coming to a vote.
To do. We have much more to do. We look forward to talking with our neighbors and finding partners with the citizens, businesses, and organizations in town. The waterfall is still at risk of destruction, and the Select Board is increasingly adamant that the town never get the opportunity to vote.
A win-win. We believe in protecting the environment, but we also cherish human and cultural values of heritage, beauty, vitality, and livability. We believe, and we are supported by the reports commissioned by the town, that these values as well as environmental values, can be preserved. Saving the the dam will be a win-win for the town.
Ken Gross is a Camden resident, private citizen, and member of the Save the Dam Falls Committee.